“We are now experiencing the first truly major crisis of financial globalisation,” said the Swiss central bank governor Philipp Hildebrand this week.
“Never before have banks seen such destruction of their balance sheets in such a short time. Moreover, there are signs that the problems are spreading. The risk premiums on commercial property, consumer credit and corporate loans have risen sharply,” he said.
Debt levels have been much higher than in the Roaring Twenties; the new-fangled tools of structured credit are more opaque: the $415 trillion nexus of derivative contracts is untested. Nobody knows for sure if the counter-parties are able to deliver on vast IOUs, or whether the construct is built on sand.
What keeps Federal Reserve officials turning at night is fear that the “financial accelerator” will now set off a vicious downward spiral. There is a risk of “very adverse economic outcomes,” said Fed vice-chair Don Kohn.
Albert Edwards, global strategist at Societe Generale, said the toppling banks are merely a symptom of a deeper rot. “The banks are not the problem. Nor even the grotesquely leveraged funds. The problem is that an economic bubble financed by ridiculously loose monetary policy is unravelling,” he said.